NARRATOR: "Hanako is more noticeable in her absence than when she is in the room. I feel her empty desk calling out for me. I find myself peering over my shoulder endlessly, hoping that I'm hallucinating and that Hanako will magically appear. She makes sure she's as small a presence as possible when she attends class, and although she had been getting better recently, that fact never changed. Nobody ever pays her any heed in class, and now that she's not here, they don't notice her absence. It's as if she just never existed. Lilly did say that her skipping class wasn't an unusual thing before I met her, but it's still very off-putting. The bells heralding the end of school make me jump in my seat. It's only now that I notice Misha is prodding me in the side with her mechanical pencil to get my attention."

MISHA: "Hello... is anybody in there~?"

HISAO: "Hey, stop that."

MISHA: "Ah! There we are! Welcome back to Earth, Hicchan~!"

HISAO: "What are you talking about?"

MISHA: "You keep on dazing off into space; I was beginning to think that you might be trying to contact alien life."

NARRATOR: "I really didn't get much sleep last night, so I don't doubt Misha's words. I'm not sure whether it was due to my medicines' side effects, Hanako's panic attack yesterday, my worrying about her in general, or all three. I yawn tiredly before resting my chin in my palm, having been reminded of how badly I slept."

MISHA: "Hey, are you really all right? Yesterday kinda rattled me as well..."

HISAO: "Yeah... yeah, I guess. I wanted to speak to Hanako again, though."

MISHA: "Did you see her last night?"

HISAO: "Yeah, Lilly and I talked to her. Um, this may sound a bit weird, but can you tell Shizune “thank you?” From both me... and Lilly."

NARRATOR: "I know Lilly technically didn't thank Shizune, but I could tell by her reaction last night that she wanted to. At least, that's how it works out in my head."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Er... I think what Shicchan is trying to say is “you're welcome.”"

NARRATOR: "The furious signing and Shizune's reddened cheeks tell me that what she said was entirely different. Her blatantly flustered expression is amusing enough to make me chuckle."

MISHA: "What's so funny, Hicchan~? Was it something we said?"

HISAO: "No, no, that's not it. I was simply thinking about how cute Shizune can be at times."

MISHA: "Wahahaha~! You're right~! Shicchan is really cute when she tries not to be!"

NARRATOR: "I notice that Misha decides not to sign her response to Shizune. Maybe Shizune's rage is enough of a counter to any quantity of “cute.” Nevertheless, Shizune quickly calms down and signs something else to Misha."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Oh~? Okay... Hicchan, Shicchan wants you to come and have dinner with us."

HISAO: "Dinner, eh?"

NARRATOR: "Turning away from them a bit, lest I be swayed by their pleading smiles, I begin to mull it over. The invitation certainly is tempting. A takeaway dinner with two cute girls is not a bad thing, after all. The thought of Hanako locked up in her room, though, keeps dancing on the edge of my mind."

HISAO: "Sorry, I'll have to pass."

MISHA: "Awww..."

NARRATOR: "Misha doesn't sign my response, but Shizune picks up on it easily enough and grimaces in disappointment. She moves her arms, assumedly beginning some form of either protest or coercion, but stops herself and taps Misha's shoulder twice. Once Misha gives Shizune her attention, the only statement Shizune has on the matter is a shrug."

MISHA: "Oh well. It's your choice, Hicchan."

HISAO: "I promise I'll join you two another time, if that helps."

NARRATOR: "Misha perks up at this, but Shizune doesn't share her reaction. With a flick of the head to signal for Misha to follow her away, Shizune simply raises her hand to silently wave me goodbye. As the two make their way out the door, I return the gesture until they're out of sight. I didn't think they would be so disappointed, and it makes me feel a little bad for ditching them. Still, I have things to do. The girls' dormitory is especially rowdy today, with a number of girls loudly playing games and watching the television in the common room on the first floor. I can hear their voices even now, standing in front of Hanako's door. It's an odd contrast to the emptiness of the floor she's on. The voices from below make the emptiness feel all the more lonely. I had hopes Hanako would be in class today, especially after the talk Lilly and I had with her last night, but I feel like I shouldn't hold it against her. It was a pretty awful episode, and to have experienced it firsthand must be all the worse."

NARRATOR: "Not knowing what state she's in, I take a small breath before giving a few sharp knocks on her brown door. All I can do is stand and wait, doing my best not to feel anxious. As the seconds wear on, I begin to think she might be asleep and didn't hear me knocking. The door handle rattles a little before I can raise my hand to knock again, though. The door opens a sliver, an eye appearing in the gap only just large enough for it to peer through. I'm sure this girl would install a peephole in her dormitory door, if only such a thing was allowed. I just stand and smile at her. I don't think words would really help here, after all. The act is returned in kind, with Hanako wordlessly looking at me. The gap's not wide enough to see her expression, and I can only guess what she's thinking. ime passes as we look at each other, the only sound being the disembodied gaiety from the ground floor. I'm not sure how long it takes, but eventually the eye moves away. I keep wondering whether she'll let me in or shut me out until the door slowly begins to creak open."

NARRATOR: "Now that I have a full view of her and her bedroom behind, the first thing I notice is that Hanako's hair is quite damp. She's recently showered, which is made even more obvious by the scent of shampoo wafting towards me. The look on her face seems one of curiosity, as if she's not really sure what to make of me. Even so, I'm not really all that sure of what she's thinking. It feels as if she's gone away for a long time, and having now returned, neither of us knows what to say to the other. Hanako realizes she's staring, looking away awkwardly before turning to the side and gazing at her feet. I decide to take it as an invitation and step past her into the room, closing the door behind me as I do so. I can see her hands fiddling in the folds of the oversized gown that hangs from her shoulders. I try to concentrate on what I want to say, but the scent from her addles my senses. To my surprise, it's not me, but Hanako that breaks the silence."

HANAKO: "Why..."

HISAO: "Because... uh..."

NARRATOR: "...Why did I come here? I was worried about Hanako, so I came to her room. She let me in, as I had hoped, and then... what? What did I mean to do? What did I mean to say? Why didn't I think this through before coming here... I want to make up for what I feel I caused, at least partly. I want to try and remove the distance I feel between us since then, and to see her happy. How can I do that when I don't know the first thing about her? I wonder... I wonder if this is how Iwanako felt when she saw me lying in that sterile, pastel blue hospital bed."

HISAO: "I uh... I... um..."

NARRATOR: "A deep sigh steadies my nerves a little and ends my stammering. I don't think I've ever felt this nervous around someone before. When I'm like this, I don't think I can lie. Even if I could bring myself to, Hanako would see through it right away."

HISAO: "I don't know. I just... wanted to see you, I guess."

NARRATOR: "Her fingers stop moving, giving me a little surprise. Looking up to her face, she gives a sweet smile and a nod. That was a satisfactory answer for her?"

HANAKO: "Um... since you're here... I'd like to... play a game of chess with you..."

NARRATOR: "I almost hang my head in disbelief that all she wants to do, after I've been winding myself up so much, is play a game. Looking at her face though, a tentative smile perched upon it, I realize that this is more than that. She could have not bothered answering the door. She could have shut it as soon as she saw my face. She could have asked me to leave. She could have rejected me at many points, but she didn't. Now, with this calm face, she wants me to play the same game that we played when we first really spent time alone together. A feeling of relief washes over me. Everything will be all right. Hanako has let me into her world. As long as we can be together like this, I think everything will be all right."

HISAO: "It would be my pleasure."

Next Scene: One More Year